Blog: The government misses a golden opportunity on NHS pay

Insulting 1% pay offer doesn’t recognise efforts of those fighting COVID for over a year, and will lead to an exodus of loyal staff while doing nothing to attract new recruits

My main concern with the Westminster government recommending an insulting 1% pay rise to NHS staff isn’t actually about pay.

It isn’t that the exceptional efforts of exhausted NHS staff after a year of fighting a pandemic are not being recognised or that this is yet another broken promise from this government.

My main concern is what this will mean for the future of the NHS – an NHS that the last year has shown beyond measure, we all rely on – and of course for patients themselves.

And let’s be honest here, a 1% pay rise isn’t even a pay rise when expected inflation rises are taken into account. And of course it is an insult to the staff who are, as you read this, still in the heat of battle against COVID-19.

But before the pandemic hit there were over 100,000 vacancies in the health service. Can you imagine the message this 1% pay offer sends to anyone thinking of working in the NHS, never mind those already there?

Many health think tanks expect 100,000 to grow to a massive 500,000 vacancies over the next decade without the necessary investment. How can the health service be expected to function without half a million members of staff?

The Westminster government has created the perfect storm of not only failing to recognise and reward existing staff for all they’ve done over the past year – but also hastening the exodus of those same staff by failing to show they’re valued, while also doing nothing to attract much needed new recruits.

It’s a golden opportunity to invest in the future of the NHS. And it’s been missed. But there is another way, and the reaction to this 1% offer shows there is a fight to be won.

This is far from a done deal – the backlash against this 1% recommendations has been swift and powerful – from all health unions, from NHS employer bodies, from the public, from the opposition and from the government’s own backbench MPs.

UNISON’s One Team £2k claim is fair, affordable and the very least the government can do. Over 90% of members responding to our December survey said a £2k rise would boost morale and make a meaningful difference to them.

And it makes economic sense – much of the cost comes back to the Treasury as putting money in the pockets of a million-strong workforce stimulates spending with local businesses and generates direct and indirect tax returns.

Our campaign recognises the importance of everyone in the NHS team – nurses, porters, healthcare assistants, cleaners, paramedics, admin staff, science staff – everyone who works together to deliver patient care.

There’s much work to do, including what we’re doing to prepare for when health lay leaders give evidence to the Pay Review Body later this month. I’m proud that, when they met with employers and government representatives on Friday, they laid out powerfully and passionately just how devastating the 1% announcement has already been for staff morale.

Rest assured that UNISON will do everything to support health branches and our work fighting this 1% offer will take place alongside the union’s fight against the pay freeze for other public sector workers.

And this week we will be mobilising the strong public support for NHS staff as we call on all UNISON members and their friends and families to join a nationwide slow handclap on Thursday at 8pm. Let’s continue to show the government that they’ve got this one badly wrong. There is so much at stake.